THERE were emotional scenes at Basildon Crown Court on Wednesday afternoon as Tilbury councillor, Clare Baldwin was unanimously cleared of a charge of benefit fraud.
A jury of eight women and four men took just fifteen minutes to come to a unanimous verdict in the three day trial.
Clare Baldwin (42), Byron Gardens, Tilbury, wept with relief as the verdict was announced and she was told by Judge Graham that she was free to the dock.
The single charge of benefit fraud to the value of Â£2,645.64 appeared to hinge on a single question:
"Was her partner (Terrence Hearse) living with Ms Baldwin on the day (March 19th, 2012) when she signed her Housing Benefit application form?"
The evidence presented over the three days chronicled document after document in which Mr Hearse had entered his address as 26 Byron Gardens, Tilbury but time after time, they were explained by Ms Baldwin.
Ms Baldwin told the court: "Mr Hearse was a sofa surfer in the area. The use of my address on a number of occasions was simply a convenience, a c/o (care of)"
Her defence barrister John Caudle told the jury. "You will note that there is not a single document signed by Ms Baldwin to state that Mr Hearse lived at 26 Byron Gardens at the time relevant to the charge".
Mr Caudle also questioned the Thurrock Council investigation, questioning why there was: "Not surveillance evidence that may show Mr Hearse living at 26 Byron Gardens."
Speaking outside the court, an emotional cllr Baldwin said: " I have been put through two years of hell. There is the cost to my health and that of my family and there is also the absurd possibility that an investigation into a fraud for Â£2,000, of which I have been found not guilty, may have cost the taxpayer close to Â£100,000.
"I would like to thank those who have supported me throughout the ordeal. You are very special people. I will now go home and then on to a council meeting too represent the people of Tilbury.